It sounds as though I’m talking about a novel or a movie when I say that it captured my imagination; rather, I’m actually talking about a pavlova. A layered pavlova with elderflower cream and rhubarb-macerated strawberries from A Pug in the Kitchen.
I took a bit of a millefeuille reinterpretation: vanilla pastry cream, and strawberries macerated in elderflower tonic. I did have some trouble with my rough puff pastry. Take a look at the second image of these tarts I previously made to see what I was expecting. I think what I did differently this time was simply taking too long (a few too many progress photos slowed me down), so I began to lose the distinction between butter and dough in the pastry. It is fine, as any pastry with that much butter, and baked until crisped and browned is still good, but the pastry layers were more tender and crumbly than flaky and thousand-layered. I was hoping this would be THE pastry cream to end all pastry creams. It was not.
The aim was the super-rich-buttery-yet-light quality of an Aoki Sadaharu pastry cream. Well, not particularly at all. It was much too heavy (so, of course, more whipped cream next time–much more!). I think I make a very eggy pastry cream, and while I like the distinct custardy taste (in this case, very much vanilla ice cream base), it probably isn’t what I’m looking for: maybe lighter on the eggs would be better. I thought the incorporation of the butter would recapitulate some of the richness, and perhaps it would have done so successfully if there was enough whipped cream to also lighten it.
But it was still a very decent pastry cream–thick enough to hold its shape, not too sweet, and rich and eggy and distinctively tasting.The quinine in the elderflower tonic provides a bit of bitterness to temper the sweetness of the macerated strawberries. The elderflower flavour is not very apparent though, but it is there if you know to look for it (so I noticed, but understandably no one else did). The millefeuille are best with just a bit of icing sugar on top; the icing is much too sweet.I had read that millefeuille should only be assembled immediately prior to eating. I agree that this is best, though I do think it actually keeps quite well. The pastry looses its crispness, but it is far from soggy or mushy. Laying the macerated strawberries on top of the pastry cream may have helped to prevent any sogginess that perhaps would have occurred with direct contact between the strawberries and pastry.
I can also vouch for the millefeuille still being quite nice even after two days in the fridge post-assembly (above is a picture of a cross section). The pastry remains tender enough and with the pastry cream firmed up, they are easy to slice.
The bottle of the elderflower tonic was so pretty I just left it on the table in the background while taking photos–and it ended up in every photo. Oops. Subtly aggressive product placement? I should get paid for this. strawberry, vanilla and elderflower mille feuille
whole wheat pastry
150 g cold butter
150 g whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
a few spoonfuls of sugar
Cut the butter into thin slices. Mix together the flour, sugar and salt on a good working surface. Place the butter pieces on top, turning over to dust completely with flour. Using a metal bench scraper or the heel of your hand, flatten the pieces of butter. Use the bench scrape to fold the pile of butter in flour in half over itself and flatten once more. This process will create gradually thinner and thinner flakes of butter. Once the butter is flaked throughout thinly, make a well in the centre and mix in the water, folding over with the bench scraper.
At this point, perhaps chill the pastry. Dust the surface with some additional flour, and with a rolling pin, roll out the dough into an elongate rectangle. Fold up into thirds like a letter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and roll out into an elongate rectangle again, and the fold up once more. Repeat this 3 or so more times (somewhere in the range of 2-5 more times) such that you will have repeated the folding process 5 times. During the folding process, the pastry can be dotted with thyme leaves or sprigs of thyme if desired to incorporate them. Wrap in plastic and chill.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Cut into three even pieces and roll each one out quite thinly into rectangles roughly the same shape (such as a 12″ by 6″ rectangle). Rub the pastry all over with a bit of powdered sugar (this works very well!, and is taken from Ruby Tandoh’s Crumb) which ensures the pastry browns nicely. Sandwich the pastry layer between two sheets of parchment paper and then between two jelly roll pans (which can be weighted down if you think it necessary). Bake for around 10-15 minutes, then remove the top pan and bake for another few minutes or until nicely browned.
Let cool and repeat for the remaining three layers.
Take the three layers of pastry and trim to the largest rectangle they can all contain. For me, this was a 8 1/2″ by 5″ rectangle.
vanilla pastry cream
This pastry cream has become too far removed from the original sources (I keep on looking at an adaptation on my blog of a previous adaptation on my blog of a previous adaptation on my blog that was made from a combination of two sources), so I guess I won’t cite anything anymore. I think I’ve ended up with a quite eggy pastry cream: it is very custardy, and this one I also used a lot of butter to make it quite rich.
260 mL milk
75 mL 36% cream
5 cm length of vanilla bean
25 g sugar
27 g cornstarch
125 g whole egg (2.5 large eggs)
1 egg yolk
40 g butter
Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds from the pod. Warm up the milk and cream in a saucepan with the seeds and pod of the vanilla bean.
I never seem to take my own advice (though I intended to!), but I will present it here anyways: Whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt together. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking into the cornstarch completely until smooth (no cornstarch lumps) with each addition. This should help avoid lumps.
Temper the egg mixture with the milk and cream. Return to a medium heat over the stovetop and whisk continuously and vigorously until the pastry cream has thickened. I usually continue cooking it over the stovetop for another few minutes (whisking very constantly and vigorously) to ensure all the starch is cooked.
Remove from the heat, and whisk in the butter small piece by small piece. Transfer to a bowl, cover, let cool completely, then chill.
elderflower tonic syrup (here is one that I used)
100 g heavy cream
40 g creme fraiche
Slice the strawberries and toss with some elderflower tonic to taste (and a bit of sugar if the strawberries need it). Set aside to macerate for an hour to overnight.
Drain, and reserve the juices for serving… or just eating, or what have you. Toss the strawberries with a bit more tonic to flavour.
Whip the cream and creme fraiche together until billowy and fold into the pastry cream.
Take the three rectangles of pastry and cut into the desired size. I made four 1 1/2″ by 5″ rectangles and two 2 1/2″ by 2 1/2″ squares out of each rectangle. Cut the same shapes from each rectangle to get a top, middle layer, and a bottom.
Take the bottom pieces of pastry and pipe the pastry cream over the bottom, and place some macerated strawberries overtop. You can make a bit of a trough with a small offset spatula or spoon in the pastry cream to more effectively hold the strawberries. If you do this, do not pipe right to the edges of the pastry so that the cream doesn’t squish out when you make the trough. Top with a second piece of pastry and then repeat, and finally top with the third and last pieces of pastry.
Dust with powdered sugar, or spread with a bit of thin powdered sugar icing (you can use the strawberry juice to make a nice pink icing), or dollop with more pastry cream.
I found the addition of icing too sweet–I think it is best just dusted with some powdered sugar.